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Feast of the Seven Fishes 2011

I have just watch the Feast of Fishes on the food network for the second year. It is a Bobby Flay Throw-down repeat. I have already prepared and posted our menu for this year, but now I am wondering if I should make a couple changes. Cod cakes are on our menu. Bobby Flay did them too, and sauced them with clams and lobster. As good as that sounds, the judges actually thought the sauce over powered the cod-cakes. And the steamed sea bass with capers and olives is very similar to my version. But hey, Bobby lost the throw-down and probably because the chef-judges were looking for traditional dishes. That is not where I usually go–always looking to make them my own and sometimes they just end up outside the box. So all I am saying is I like my menu and will stack it up against any.

Be sure to join us. This is a seafood-lover’s night and a night for those who love seafood lovers! Hope we see you there. Click through to see the menu.


BACK HOME AGAIN

Olivia, left, and Taylor are looking as though they don't really believe we are home! Halloween scarves for today!

Our good friend (our “adopted” daughter) has a birthday today, on Halloween, and so after a good rest in our own bed last night, we called to sing to her and to catch up the last two weeks on both sides. She is pregnant and we are all expecting “little Holly or Jorge” to make an entrance in March. (they want to be surprised) Anyway, we hung up and promptly got a text from her; everyone under 40 seems to use this as the perferred method of communication these days! Anyway she said we sounded relaxed and very happy, more so than she’d heard for awhile. Well, that’s what it’s all about! We have much to be happy about and we are happy it shows! It was wonderful to arrive home 27 hours after leaving Florence yesterday!

Our bus ride to the Florence airport started around 4 AM from our villa and a majority of our guests left with us. Once at the airport, after saying “arivederci” (till we meet again) with hugs and Italian kisses on each side, we all scattered to our check in gates, promising to stay in touch. We knew our bag to check would be overweight after adding 5 kilos of cheeses, but gee, every bag needed attention as we stood in the check in lane. They were actually weighing our carry-on! I lighten the carryon by distributing to three bags which would be checked. And guess what, our main purchases are yet to be shipped directly. Anyway, a few souvenirs and some tasty cheeses and a few good chianti’s are here now!!

This morning we unpacked the seven, yep, 7, suitcases. We normally pack so light we each get by with a couple carry-ons, but not this trip. The souvenirs ranging from olive-wood kitchen gadgets to tee-shirts actually fills our diningroom table (it serves 12). Nice loot, I told Lenore! She, of course, arranged them into piles for who gets what! A by-product of a vacation of this nature is the opportunity to re-live it over and over as we hand out our little momentoes.


FAREWELL DINNER

OCTOBER 29, 2011 First let me tell you that we have just completed two incredible weeks in Italy. Contributing were the incrediblly unseasonal weather; our wonderful tour guide, Paola; our hosts, Stefano and Sergio, at the castle-villa Fabbroni; the artisans who welcomed us into their worlds and in some cases their homes; and lastly our guests and fellow travelers. One more mention is our guide’s mother, who hand embroidered an EVOO logo in yarn on a “memory tote bag,” that she first sewed together! Paola’s mom is in her 80’s and she was already asking Paola what she might do for our next culinary tour. The totes were presented on our first night together and used daily by our guests. Every aspect of our tour here has been greater than we imagined.

Our farewell dinners served to reinforce our opinions because each person holding the olive branch had to share something they were thinking. But perhaps I should start from the beginning. Our little group of 17, including Paola, our guide, and us, were called to breakfast daily around 8 AM. We would be greeted with American coffee, assorted fresh bakery pastries, a veggie omelet, sliced or baked tomatoes, fresh whole fruit, choice of three cereals, yogurt, salami, ham, and orange juice. The bus would arrive about 8:45 and we were to be aboard by 9 or 9:30. Anyone late to board was to supply the group with gelato! (Lenore was a few minutes late one morning herself–and she paid up with chocolates at the farewell dinner.) Typically we would drive to our destination for a tour, lesson, and before long, lunch, after which we would purchase products made by our hosts. Back at the villa we would enjoy about an hour of free time to explore, nap, or refresh for dinner. We had two dinner classes in which we prepared recipes under our chef-hosts’guidance; or it was a dinner prepared for us by them. Only once were we on our own for dinner, and that night Lenore and I prepared the sausages we made during our visit with a butcher as well as some steaks and burgers. Food was ample and “typical” the entire week.

On our last night, after a full day in Lucca, shopping and having a bakery lesson and lunch, we got back to the villa about 5PM. It was enough time to refresh for the farewell dinner that our hosts prepared for us. Without going into detail, let me just say that our guests and I really wanted to see some veggies by the end of the week, so we asked for a vegetarian menu. Eggplant parmesan fried stuffed celery, artichokes, salad, ricotta pie, and a fruit salad dessert. Just right. Since our farewell dinner was on Saturday, our villa happened to be hosting several other groups, so we shared the dining room with them. But they were amenable or at least tolerant with our olive branch game.

You see after each dinner at the villa, Lenore would place the olive branch (plucked from the orchards on the first day) over a guest’s head. She then asked a question or requested some information about themselves or what they were thinking. Each person then shared their thoughts. On the last day each week, we passed the branch around so that each guest could tell us one “take away” from the trip. This is when Lenore and I truly knew we had a successful tour. Our guests shared that the greatest part of this tour is that it is one of a kind. We went where tourists do not go. We were told that the passion exhibited by our hosting artisan vendors was priceless. That the friendships forged during our time together were unexpected. And that we as a group of people going through this life have a shared a one of a kind experience during this our first culinary tour of Italy.


Cheese Making

We had a long drive through the colorful scenic Tuscan hills this morning after breakfast on the way to the sheep farm where we were greeted by Giuseppe and his family. He raises sheep and makes prize winning cheese. He starts by taking us to a pasture to see the sheep; explaining that sheep give birth twice a year at Easter and Christmas, and so they have lots of milk from which to naturally and organically produce the cheeses. He has the trophies to prove the quality of his cheeses on display in his great room and its large corner, almost “walk-in,” fireplace with a cozy sitting area in front of it. Adjacent is a built-in wood fired oven and wood storage bin. Our table was set for a few more than the size of our group, the first hint that the family would be joining us.

But first the fourth generation cheese maker asked us to gather around a table to watch him make a small batch of cheese. He explained he was making the cheese using a vegetable enzyme from the Cardone plant from the artichoke family. It appeared that the flower of the plant was dried and then the “choke” pulled out and soaked in water to extract the needed enzymes. After soaking it was strained and the liquid added to the milk. In less than 30 minutes, the cheese began to form. It looked like milk jello as it was firm but still wiggly. Giuseppe used a knife to make vertical cuts, crosswise then lengthwise through the gelled milk. But as he did this he explained that from this one batch of milk he would make three kinds of cheese. The first was this milk jello substance that he harvested from the top, skimming carefully to get only the best of it, called roveggiolo. Next he continued cutting to separate more and more of the whey from the curds. When the curds became much drier, he pull it from the whey, placing handfuls in small plastic cups pierced with uniformly placed holes all around and on the bottom. These, he put into a pan to collect more whey as they sat weeping. Once all the curds had been cradled into the cups, he asked us to start squeezing the cheese. We were told to remove the cheese from the cups and close our hands around it and gently squeeze. Those of us with warm hands would warm the cheese and allow more liquid to escape, creating a smooth texture. If we had cold hands, the cheese would take longer to evacuate the whey and the resulting cheese would be coarser. Since it was a small batch we had this task done in short order.

The third cheese we would make from this batch would be ricotta. This is made by heating the whey that was left taking care not to stop the enzymes, but to encourage the last of the curds to form a soft, by now very tart pudding consistency he called ricotta. Quite a contrast to the way we have made ricotta back at school, using lemon juice in heated milk to separate the curds and whey. But learning that ricotta in this case was the second by-product of making a batch of cheese, reinforced the Tuscan way, that of using every part of the food source and in this way stretching it as far as possible to feed more people.

Before we actually finished our cheese making, our next task was to make the gnocchetti for our lunch. The kitchen was a white room with stainless tables and sinks and a stove. It was barely large enough for the group of us, but that didn’t seem to matter. The dough was already started by “mama” and the wives of the two “best friends,” Giuseppe and Paolo. Hand kneading had already begun, but we soon learned that was not step one. After mixing the flour, eggs, water and a touch of oil, the crumbly mixture was place on a wooden piece of equipment that appeared to me to be an antique “high chair” equipped with a revolving square peg that worked the dough as it was threaded by hand through it over and over again. You could tell that at some point there had been a hand crank to do the turning and whoever invented and made this thing, was probably not still around to see it run by an electric motor and a couple of pulleys.

When the machine did its job, the dough was cut into smaller pieces and picked up by the women who began shaping snake like ropes with it. We were all invited to jump into the operation at this point. Once the rope was just right, it was fed through a more modern gadget that spit out perfectly shapped gnocchitini (thin gnocchi, not made with potato). One person cranked while one fed the rope of dough and another would flour and place in the pan. (note-we made pasta at another small store where we used rice flour for keeping them from sticking together and it worked very nicely).

Meantime Mama was busy demonstrating the old fashioned way to form the shape this pasta. She would place a round of dough on the end of her thumb and pressing in a particular motion would yield the shape of a “lambs ear.” These didn’t exactly match those being produced by the machine, but nobody seemed to care. We wanted to see Mama in action and try a few of our own. Soon we were forming the characteristic texture on them using a small grater turned upside down, sort of a makeshift gnocchi paddle. (wish we had known because we may not have bought a few olive wood gnocchi paddles)

When finished, the gnocchi was ready to be dropped into the boiling water that had been simmering on the stove. The kitchen ladies took over as we were invited to sit at the long communal table that had been set in the common area. Each table with bottled water, jugs of wine, and with colorful chargers of red, silver and green, to match the colors of the line of small Italian flags that were stretched from the ceiling over the table from one end to the other. Each place setting had a bowl for the pasta and a plate to sample the cheeses. Several bottles of “new” olive oil, baskets of bread, jars of pepper jam, and honey were placed at intervals down the middle of the table. The wine was poured as the platters of pasta were placed. They had prepared a cream sauce using their only Gorgonzola style cheese and bits of zucchini, reflecting the late harvest from the garden. It was delicious! We were reminded that this was our main meal so enjoy a second serving.

The cheese tasting plate was next. A medium sized plate covered with wedges of cheeses, from softest to the hardest, we sampled counter-clockwise around the plate. Each cheese was given due time to savor and enjoy as Giuseppe described what how each were made. Right away I had a favorite. It was a soft cheese flavored with white truffles. I was so certain I would like it, but didn’t know how much. Lenore called it “cheesecake.” It was nutty and sweet and creamy and light. We tried hard not to like it knowing we’d not be allowed to take any home with us. Only hard cheese can be taking into the USA. But never mind, the memory is strong and I will look for it from our distributors. As it is I saw many things this trip that are already available in the USA, and it made it easier to pass up this special cheese. We settled on four varieties of the aged semi hard and hard cheeses, one of which was Giuseppe’s father’s recipe that had won lots of recognition. In fact, others in our group seemed to pick allot of the same cheeses that we did.


COOKING CLASS

Our day in the town of Greve in Chianti began yesterday after another night of power dining; it was our last class at the villa and we cooked several items including dessert, and went to bed after a long evening of food and wine. Of course we had to begin the new day with a cappuccino when we arrived in Greve, even though we had a huge breakfast with coffee Americana already.

Some of you know that what we mean by power dining is experiencing as many dishes as we can in a small period of time in an area we want to know better. Our plan for this trip was to immerse ourselves into the Italian cuisine culture as deeply as we could, and we are doing a pretty good job so far. Let me put it this way, no one has been “starved” before sitting down to the next meal. Or perhaps better said no one has been even mildly hungry. That said let’s talk about the food.

From the appetizer spreads for bruschetta to the tiramisu, we have savored every morsel. The Tuscan way is what we signed up for and it is what we are getting in every venue. We hear the words, “this is the typical way of the region.” Or we may hear, “the north makes their tiramisu this way, no alcohol!” Only in the south will you find it with alcohol. So after 150 years of a united Italy, they still do battle on the plate. The competition between the regions can be seen in the way the different areas produce the same dishes.

Osso Bucco was the star of our cooking class last night. We enjoyed the gentle braise with some veal stock and a little tomato sauce finished with a gremolata, which was also put back on the heat to warm it. Chicken liver on our bruschetta was prepared in class last night as well, and the story around why it is so popular here in Tuscany also begins with, we don’t waste anything. And of course, since Paola loves chicken liver, we did see it a few more times on the menu, too!

Despite the wonderful abundance of food our Italian hosts are lean and fit and we are trying to put great dining together with that. (maybe running a villa, giving cooking classes, attending an olive orchard and grape vines and full culinary garden with chickens and turkeys might answer this mystery) Our hope is to learn more than just how to cook while we are here in this proud deeply rooted culinary country.
Images: top:Bob, chef hosts, Sergio, Stefano, and Lenore; right: one of the castle’s many courtyards overlooking the country side; bottom: a typical cookie platter


Savoring Tuscany

We arrived into Florence airport and were greeted by sunshine and our guide met us with her sunny smile as well. It was a wonderful flight over Greenland into Amsterdam and then a short trip to Florence on a connecting plane. After driving to our villa we were invited to go to the vineyard we are visiting in a few days with our guests. We said sure, knowing we had not slept a minute yet and it was just morning in Italy the next day. We thought we could make it back by 5:30 and get plenty of rest for the next day. We didn’t arrive back to our room until 9:30 and finally got to go to bed—this was about 30 hours of being up starting in Portland.

After a very quiet night, we woke refreshed and ready to go to Paola’s prearranged appointments. She is looking already for our next tour. We visited the Butcher, a small business that has taken off—he now operates a full restaurant with his meats. He is famous for his McDario hamburger was a half-pound of well-seasoned ground beef with a quick sear and served on a pile of lightly sauted onions, some fresh tomato slices, and some Tuscan bread and fried potatoes. He dubbed the “Mc” prefix to emphasize it is not a McDonald burger. He is not fast and doesn’t want anyone to eat it fast either! He and his wife, Kim, an American, have become one of the most sought after tourist locations. We walked into the butcher shop to be greeted with wine and bread and olive oil and their salty-peppery blend. They through in some wine and it was almost as good as a lunch—but it was just their way of saying welcome and let me show you what you can enjoy in our restaurant upstairs. Of course the first time we went it was too busy and we were to leave after our tastings disappointed, but happy this passionate man and his wife have carved out a very successful lifestyle while making a living. Sound familiar? Lenore and I are seeing allot of this. People have told us they first made wine for a hobby and finally decided to go into the wine business. There was the pasta lady, Willma, Tavernelle, who told us she just made pasta and sold it until one day a visitor asked if she would teach her how to make the pasta. She did and then it was the beginning of her newfound business of cooking classes. She handed me an apron and I got to work making her Chianti style pasta.

Our guests finally arrived in Florence on Monday October 17, 2011; we met and boarded our 20 seat bus and took off for our Castle in the Tuscany Hills. It was a little like taking a ride through a wormhole and back to the middle ages as we went from the skinny paved roads to the dirt and dusty Roman road that leads to the Castle. Our guests commented on the scenery and fresh cool air as they filed off the bus. Next they were shown to their rooms in this thick stone walled building that has been home to many before but perhaps none who loved it more than its current owners. Sergio and Stefano are chefs from a former life, but now the proud hosts in this beautiful place. Our rooms are furnished typical of the country side homes in Tuscany. Furniture is not new but rather handed down from generation to generation. Each room has an old armoire and two twin beds under one double headboard, pretending to be just one bed. Every room but ours has its own bath, and our bathe is just a short distance outside in the hallway. There are two common areas—one for three bedrooms (where ours is) and the other for five bedrooms. All rooms are spacious and clean with the sheets and towels smelling of fresh air. Dryers are not used in the country side of Tuscany.

Dinner tonight was long and lovely. To watch our hosts in their element and treat us to their beloved recipes of a black cabbage soup, made with white beans, and bread—one of the many ways Tuscan’s


THE BAKERY

October 29, 2011 Another stunningly beautiful day in Italy! We are off to some free time in Lucca, the completely walled city slightly north of Florence. Paola, our guide, said she thinks it is the best place to experience shopping because it is slightly out of the way for tourists. The drive was a couple hours from our villa. The freeway was thick with traffic and they all seemed to be going to Lucca.

Today is Saturday, the start to a long weekend for Italians to celebrate “All Saints Day.” So the traffic was noticeably more than last week the same time. Our guide was saying that cannot be the reason we see so many cars pouring into the city, though, and she called a friend who explained that there is a comic book convention in town. Seems attendees dress up in their favorite comic book characters. Some are recognizable but many just seem to be characters one might see back home for Halloween; renaissance characters and TV/movie personalities seem popular. So we, of course, picked one of the best days to see local color without knowing in advance. We took many pictures of the characters as they passed. All we needed to do is to raise our camera, poised to take their picture, and they would stop to pose!

As we sat drinking coffee watching the parade of sorts, I jumped out in front of a small child dressed like a knight of the round table; when he saw me his posture straightened proudly taking on the persona for the picture. After an espresso and gelato and a couple hours of people watching and shopping, our group gathered at the meeting place to board the bus for our lesson at a family owned bakery located in the outskirts of Lucca in a small neighborhood.

We assumed the family of bakers provides the bread for this small area.
But first there was a lovely buffet table set outside under one of those large umbrellas we have seen everywhere here in Italy. The centerpiece of ornamental corn and fresh roses for a Tuscan fall arrangement with platters of many of the “usual suspects” on our visits, included the mortadella ham, Tuscan salami, four kinds of breads, and even pizza and sort of a focaccia sandwich of “lardo,” which was soon declared a favorite. Of course there always seems to be wine, too, and after antipasti, the pasta comes to the table, this time called “macaroni” that looked like uneven pieces of thick flat pasta with a fresh tomato and garlic sauce, topped with parmesan regianno.

After lunch as each of us “aproned-up” and washed hands we headed into the small kitchen behind the even smaller retail store front. Italian store fronts, especially for food, seem to be only a garage door wide. The head baker had already prepped a batch of whole grain dough and shaped them into rounds, baguettes and some round loaves with sunflower imprints. All were placed onto a canvas conveyor belt that with one complete turn landed the 10-12 loaves on the deck of the large wide deck oven. They would bake about 30 minutes; just time enough to produce a second batch of Tuscan sour dough with his “biga” starter.

Divided into two groups, we each shaped bread and made some biscuits (also known as cookies). Lenore’s favorite cookie was the one coated in corn flakes before baking, with raisins and a dusting of powdered sugar when cool. For our guide, Paola, our baker hosts made her favorite dessert, a tart made with chestnut flour, rosemary, pine nuts and lemon zest. But for me, I was intrigued by the amaretto tart made with a wonderful shortbread crust rolled and cut in a way I had not seen before, and I will definitely be doing this one when I get home. We were rewarded for our work with a large pastry assortment of their specialties: almond paste crescent, cornflake cookies, chocolate pie, and amaretto tart. We finished production by bagging up all the baked goods to take with us!

We left with more than we came in with, that’s for sure. We each received a cookie bag tied in a bow along with a hand written recipe book, which we will need to translate after we get home. Obviously, this is not the type of activity they do regularly, but judging from the “polish” and enthusiasm of our second week, we think these artisans may like the opportunity to “teach” more often. The organization of the second lesson was noticeably improved and the shy demeanor of the bakers noticeably more relaxed and talkative.

That we are actually meeting the people who create the breads, cheeses, salami of the Tuscany region, is the core of this trip. Producers who welcomed us into their homes, in some cases, wouldn’t give us a lesson without feeding us too! The hospitality of the Italians continues to delight us.


thirteen days and counting down

The "girls" ready for rainy beach days.

The excitement of our trip to Tuscany is beginning to take over the usual excitement our new menu that starts today provides. Typically we change the menu the first weekend of the new month and after a whole month, we are ready to say good-bye to the old recipes, and say hello to the new ones. But this week, our attention is diverted to the suitcases at home in our living room and the pile of clothing we are sorting to pack. I used to travel allot with my past jobs, and it was pretty routine. Now it is never quite as smooth as that. No matter how early we start packing, the two of us are competing for space and you know who usually wins. This time the suitcases have been out for weeks to help desensitize our poodles since they get a little anxious when they see the bags come out. Their worries seem to melt the instant our dog sitter arrives. They do tend to get more attention when we are gone, so much of the wagging and licking we get when we get home is really just to be polite. Spoiled is a pretty good description of what we will find when we return. It is such a comfort to Lenore and me that we have good care for them while we are gone thanks to Donna and daughter, Dom. This will be the longest time we have been away, but I am guessing they won’t even notice.

So in the next 13 days we must finish packing and get done all the errands and list of details we need to do before we leave. One thing we must do is get flu and a tetanus shots. Lenore isn’t happy about this but agrees it’s best to be prepared.

There are many final details to getting the store ready for our absence. We’ve lined up guest chefs to do classes on the Saturdays we are gone. Shanda, our third arm, is the best comfort for our anxiety while away. She will hold it all together while we’re gone, and continue to take calls and schedule our shows.  Note to self, bring back Shanda a great souvenir from Tuscany.

No matter how many details we have covered we are pretty sure there will be some we have forgotten. I guess it is good to give ourselves a break, and just take it in stride when it comes. Once we get this trip under out belt, our first one as the hosts, we hope we can schedule two next year.

Right now I have kitchen duties calling, but one more thing. Please check out our blogs from Italy while we are away.


PRELUDE TO ITALY

We are leaving in a few weeks to host our first culinary journey, and I am getting excited. It has been in the works about a year, I think, and in October we will be on Italian soil picking olives and eating everything Tuscan! I am longing to repeat the flavors that are burned into my food memories. Like gelato, the perfect example of why the Italians do it right. Italians are most approachable and proud. They remind us of Americans only with a longer history. I remember the discussions Lenore and I were having on the way home from our last trip in Italy. Lenore telling me she could absolutely live there and feel right at home. I’m reminded of the hospitality in every restaurant and bar that we went into. The kind of hospitality that probably rivals American southern hospitality, because everywhere we went we felt like family.

Lenore and a group of fifteen girlfriends took a trip to Tuscany a few years back. Husbands were allowed to join them after they spent a couple weeks on their own. On the first night we husbands got into Florence, we all went out to dinner together, to a restaurant suggested by our hotel just a short cab ride away. At the moment I am not remembering the name. We were ushered into a back room that housed the longest communal table ever, and where we could see into the kitchen as the waiters pushed in and out of the swinging door. Our group filled the table, and when we were all settled in, Alice seated across the room from me, pointed above my head. “Look who’s sitting under his own family crest!” Sure enough there it was, the Neroni crest above my head, at head of the long table. Alice isn’t shy, and she announced the coincidence to our waiters. After they checked my passport to be sure, it seemed our party was instantly raised to VIP status. Wine was free flowing and in fact there was a bottle placed at the seat of every man at the table! Foods we didn’t order arrive and we were spoiled like that the entire evening! Wow, my ancestors must have been important. All I could think of was the times my dad would talk about the Neronis as having been royalty, and I remember thinking there goes my dad, exaggerating again, a habit I had grown to love/hate over the years.

Home again in Seattle, we learned via an internet search that indeed a Neroni served as council to the Medici Family, the richest family in Florence during the renaissance. I wonder now if any Neronis cooked for the Medicis. In culinary school we learned that Caterina de’ Medici married Henry II of France in 1533 and brought her own Italian cooks to France and, history records, that incident alone elevated the gastronomy of the Renaissance.

That we will be there again soaking up the history of the place, as we sip and dine on the traditional flavors that distinguishes Tuscan cuisine, it is enough to start my mouth watering for those Tuscan specialties: wild boar and its salami, sausage and prosciutto, liquid gold olive oil, porcini mushrooms, dishes made with dried white beans, toscanelli and cannellini, and the flat-bread like schiacciata.


Time to reflect on Summer, already?

It seems things are just beginning to “heat up” this summer, and it’s already time to expect visitor traffic to recede. Our inclination is to say, “no, don’t go!” We’re just warming up. (Literally, that is true!) We want to say, “what’s the hurry, you just got here.” Seems everyone falls for Fall! With the new fall lineup of TV and the ads for Back To School, we can already see the reservations the week after Labor day shrinking. We want to shout out that the weather here still feels like summer and the though the days are shorter, it’s still daylight after dinner. Time to enjoy more sand, sea air and all that Cannon Beach has to offer. Even the Farmers Market goes till the end of September!

We have already said good-bye to some of our summer help, and Shanda is composing our Fall newsletter. Wish we didn’t have to be so calendar controlled, especially when the weather is still so favorable and we have the energy to entertain with our dinner shows. But the pattern is becoming familiar now as we go into our eighth year. Before everyone leaves I just want to say thanks to our visitors this summer. I may forget your names but most often remember faces and places. Some of you come from quite a distance. We’ve seen first time to Oregon guests from Nebraska, lots of folks from Texas this year, and many from Canada–even as far as Nova Scotia and Manitoba. We know the people from Texas and other southern US places come here to escape the heat. When we go around the room with introductions we heard how wonderful our CB weather is. While those of us who live here year round were thinking our summer has only just begun. Anyway we want to say thanks to so many guests this summer, especially those who make an annual trip to Cannon Beach (& to EVOO).

The fact that many of our new guests referenced Trip Adviser has not escaped our notice, and we are so grateful for the great reviews from those who took time to write. We do so appreciate the power of such a tool, and we also know that the pressure is on every night we serve. Our posture has always been that whether or not it’s a guest’s first time or an encore, our show must be our best! I am driven by the very old and tired but true kitchen saying, “we’re only as good as our last meal.” Every meal tells the story and for me it better be my best. I am not saying I am a control freak, though one might, but I really don’t want to serve my food without being here myself. I admire places that can do it, but if we had to be open seven days a week in a restaurant, I couldn’t do it. My staff is good, and I respect them, but when my name is on it, I need to have the final say. This is actually why Lenore and I prefer to offer a licensed agreement to open a second EVOO; the chefs would also own it!

It is not that my food is so intricate that no one else can do it. No, I want every one of our guests to do these recipes so they better be easy enough. No, for me it is about putting in the same amount of care that I put in every time. That is a tough thing to teach. A standard is a standard, but when life happens, who but the owner can rise above personal issues that road block the way to perfection? It is just a concept based upon repeated observations that has taken me years to formulate. Ownership is best cultivate when you are indeed the owner. Some can do it, but it is rare. Anyway that explains why I only schedule my dinner shows when I can execute them myself.

It is a different story when a guest chef comes to present a piece of themselves. I find those times very educational for our guests and me. I do see their ownership and I like that they are willing to share with us. Teaching is a way to show one’s ownership. When we are away this October we have scheduled guest chefs to be here on Saturdays. One guest is Italian chef, Andre Pianucci, from Portland, who shares many of my food philosophies. The class is hands-on and focused on authentic gnocchi. Kate Koo is a sushi chef who is coming for a hands on class as well. Kate is currently working at Zilla Sake House in Portland. And finally we have Josh Archibald, our hometown guest chef, who will be doing his Northwest ciapino as an encore performance. Many people have said it is the best version of ciappino they have every tasted! Good to know, since I make one myself.

So summer’s been good. A bit short, but definitely good. I will FALL into step real soon with the change of weather, the fall food bounty, wearing fleece again, the anticipation of stormy weather arts festival and finally, the holidays. Oh yeah, and our trip to Tuscany in October. How could I forget that!


HAPPY 7th YEAR, TO US!

Today is our seventh year anniversary! And very happy about that! On the one hand it seems quick, really seven years? On the other like dog-years! Opening a small business and becoming “it” is daunting and humbling at once. It is the hardest and yet the most rewarding work I have ever done. It is like what I love to do on a plate–a total contrast in flavors–or juxtaposition of flavors–it is like the yin yang of running a business. Can’t really have one without the other.

Some of our customers tell us we work too hard. How hard is too hard? We don’t do anything we don’t think needs to be done. We think we are working as hard as we need to. That said we are always refresh, re-energized and renewed every night we do a show. It is as if the energy comes from our guests. Hard to explain, but make no mistake about it, our work is rewarded by the response we get from our guests.

We learned long time ago when we were training for our corporate employers, that human beings are pretty simple creatures when it comes to motivation. We all work best when we are appreciated. One of our HR exercises was to put someone in a circle and just give them applause. Applause! Free unadulterated hand-clapping to say–you are appreciated! Better than tips, I think. Yes, when the applause or appreciation is given spontaneously and in a public place it cannot be beat.

Speaking of that, we cannot thank our fans enough for publicly telling others of our work. Social media has been very kind to us and Trip Adviser, a definite asset to us.  For that we put our hands together and acknowledge our customers who have made us who we are today. Thank you very very much!

 


FIRST NIGHT

Tonight we are entering our second week of the August menu. After five full weeks in July we are pretty ready for the change. You see we eat the leftovers all month long. All good, just happy to see the new variety of leftovers that the new menu brings. And  our cooks are happy to move on from stuffing corn husks with our tamale mixture to now making buckets of falafel and shaping them into our oval patties.

As a chef, I find it energizing to start fresh and work on new stuff. I guess it is why I always gravitated toward catering in my former career life, because menus are new, at least more variety than typical restaurant menus, except for the daily specials which I always enjoyed, too.

We refer to the beginning of our new month menu as FIRST NIGHT. We expect to make “tweaks” as a result of seeing it altogether the first time and listening to the feed back from our first night guests. This month our first nighters were very generous in letting us know what they thought. So much so, we have changed some of our recipes, though our menu remains pretty much the same.

First up, “too much smoke on the beef course,” they told us, so we reduced the time in the smoke for the beef. “Hard to eat the first course,” a meze salad atop a grilled flatbread (my pizza dough). We responded by increasing the flat bread to fill the entire plate, piled the meze ingredients on top,  and encourage guests to roll it up and pick up the entire entree in their hands. That first night Lenore even suggest we change the first course completely, or maybe add our house made sausage, but our guests responded that they wouldn’t change the flavors. It is good as is, just a little hard to eat.

Guests also liked the sturgeon course as is, but Lenore and I thought a “remoulade” addition was needed. It is sort of a homemade tartar sauce. It is just a good summer plate featuring a delicious local fish.

And lastly, dessert. We served a graham cracker cake with warm ganache on top then; we then planted a giant home made marshmallow on the chocolate, scattered some toasted almond slices around, and lastly, torched each marshmallow before serving! As you might imagine the evening ran overtime as we attempted to roast all those marshmallows! They were so big that their outside was toasted before their inside was melted. Needless to say, the giant marshmallow project gave way to toasted marshmallow meringue, instead. It does still resemble a s’more, which is what we were going for.

At this point, we are grateful for all the help our FIRST NIGHT guests gave us this month. So much so, that they will receive a special invitation to come back to EVOO with a 20% discount. In fact we intend to officially make it our practice for every FIRST NIGHT. Maybe we’ll see you some first night.

falafel meze salad on flatbread first course
falafel meze salad on flatbread first course
sturgeon with chipotle biscuit and corn salad

 

 

smoked tenderloin on cheddar polenta and watermelon salsa
Plate up for dessert is more manageable with Swiss meringue replacing giant marshmallow.
Plate up for dessert is more manageable with Swiss meringue replacing giant marshmallow
Toasty!
Giant toasted marshmallow--delicious but had to go!

A cathartic rambling…

First and foremost our goal at EVOO is to provide a good dining experience that also inspires our guests to make the recipes at home. We know that our approach with ingredients and techniques has to be attainable for them. No molecular gastronomy for us! I admit I enjoy the concept and do follow it to a degree because cooking has always been science to me. But the way to inspire home cooking is not going to happen if our guests have to first buy a kitchen chemistry set.  We even apologize when our recipes are longer than five or six ingredients. We encourage our customers to be free spirits when it comes to recipes—using what is available instead of following a recipe to the letter.

That is the easiest part of my job. What I find continually challenging, is sticking to our commitment to sustainability. In the beginning of our business here in Cannon Beach, we described our desire to use local sustainable and organic ingredients in every class. And in the beginning we had to define what those words meant. Fast forward to today, defining the words has been all but dropped in our nightly discussions of food, a good sign that more people are learning about the practice. Still the sustainability mantra that we profess continues, and seems even more challenging. We have had to insert the words, “we strive to be” sustainable when speaking about our policies, because the more we learn the more we know how much farther we need to go. It’s humbling. If we were closer to the city (Portland) and maybe a bigger name or deeper pockets, we might be better able to get the ingredients we want.

Lenore and I are taking a day off, so this morning slept in and actually had a cooked breakfast of eggs instead of our typical shredded wheat and fruit. Day off just means I don’t have to go in to the school, but do need to place orders. I just got off the phone with some of my vendors for tomorrow’s market dinner and Lenore turned to me and said, wow, you really go to allot of trouble to get the products that you want. “Are salmon available?” “Where are they coming from?” “How are they caught?” Yes, they are available, gill net out of nearby Young’s Bay. Anything, line caught, I ask next? He tells me only troll caught out of the Rogue River, pretty smallish but still fat and good eating, so I ordered one for tomorrow’s dinner. This call came after already checking with the local market vendors first. I always give Linda Brand Crab, for example, first right of refusal, so to speak.

Finding naturally raised and finished beef is also a roller coaster ride for us. For a short time we worked with a small ranch in Oregon and enjoyed totally natural beef. Then they were forced to close for financial reasons when the recession hit and we could no longer get grass fed beef. Finally found another farm, but had to forgo the natural finishing because this farm trucked the steers to be processed in California, requiring them to eat grain/not grass for several weeks at the end of their lives. For now we are still searching, though I am considering dropping beef from my menus until I can find a completely grass fed and finished local product.

Naturally grass fed/finished cattle are available for the retail consumer. Of course these come frozen and in all varieties of meat cuts. I could go that route, though consumer perception is that frozen product is inferior to fresh. And least we forget there’s a big hit to our carbon foot print by keeping it in a freezer. And our clientele may not be ready for eating all that a whole carcass has to offer. Still it appeals to us to see if they are. After all, it is our mission to provide inspiration for home cooks to make our recipes at home. That said, by demonstrating how to use whole or sides of beef we might be giving them what they want. It means using all the lesser known cuts, and even the offal. It would demonstrate more sustainability because even using a freezer would be better than the fact that this summer I am requiring tenderloins from three animals per weekend to serve tenderloin on the menu just the month of July. Five weeks in July, and that is 15 steers just for one month on my menu. Really makes me stop and think about using that mantra of sustainable ingredients!

I will keep examining my practices and keep searching for the products I respect.  I appreciate them that much more when they show up at my door. Often I am the one to prepare them, too. It is a long way from my days as an executive chef—code for never touching food. I am the one who sees to it that the fish is well iced; that the herbs are in fresh water standing up under a cheesecloth umbrella; that the garlic and onions, and all staples, are rotated so they don’t begin to sprout or worse. When the fish arrives less than 24 hours from catch I can’t help feel exhilarated and grateful. On the flip side, I feel rotten whenever I find something well past prime in my refrigerator that I cannot use and must discard.

Right now, I am going to work on another form of sustainability; that of balancing Lenore and my work life with dinner and a movie with friends. Till next time….


My day off

We had been asked for a date to serve a small group described as foster kids, who were meeting from all over the country in Seaside, Oregon’s headquarters for the foster club, and who their director believed would gain allot from one of our dining experiences. We finally settled on a lunch experience on my day off, this past Monday. It was two years in the making already so we felt it was worth it to give up one day off.

So we put together a four course luncheon for who we pictured was our audience. We served fresh veggie and Oregon pink shrimp spring rolls with a gazpacho shooter to start, followed by a tenderloin kabob with Koren spices and a vegetable fried rice; next a fresh salad with strawberries and blue cheese and last a double chocolate cup cake with graham cracker crust and a whipped marshmallow meringue on top. It sounded like foods “kids” might like and we came in will no other expectation.

We were anxious to hear more about the Foster Club organization, but waited until we had served a couple courses before we took time to go around and hear from them. Lenore asked each to tell us their name, where they were from and what they hoped to accomplish in their lives. After the first two took their turns, we were hooked and almost fixated on their every word. Our emotions were stirring up and kept us fully attending till the last story was told. It took only about 15 minutes. I was stunned by their poise and articulation in telling what seemed like deep personal insights that I imagined the average person coming to sometime in their thirties. Each told how long they had been in foster care and one expanded saying that during their time in foster care that they had attended 17 different schools before graduating from high school. One said she was 21 and a senior at Stanford but that she had been in foster care for several years and found that she had grown to appreciate that her experience with Foster Club now was certainly helping her meet her goals as an adult. Every story hit us in such a way that we were instantly changed on the spot.  Our own attitudes and understanding of the foster care system were coming into focus and would be changed forever by this day.

Lenore was too choked up by the time the last person spoke, so I rescued her and pulled our attention back to the food. All the time I was aware now that my job was not nearly as important or meaningful as what these kids were going to accomplish with their lives. A few of them were going to leave the next morning to testify on Capitol hill, in Washington DC about foster care. To say we were humbled is an understatement.

We were changed. The rest of the meal we laughed and talked about food and Harry Potter, hoping no one would say too much as Lenore and I were planning to see the movie that evening.

Upon saying goodbye everyone came to each of us and shook our hands, often giving us tight hugs as well, again with that unexpected self-confidence and poise of a much older person. They each expressed their enjoyment and appreciation for the day. One woman said she never met anyone like my wife who had only known them for 2o minutes, yet who understood and she could see how much she cared.

Lenore’s tears were from joy for the most part. A faith in the character and leadership of these individuals. It was exhilarating. It was a good day off!


Cool

Ah, summer has arrived. The summer heat beating down onto our thin black asphalt roof coupled with no insulation is enough to melt our computers in our attic office; consequently it is the only room that has AC. Our dogs are sequestered in the air conditioned room; Lenore is up there too. When she comes down stairs she marvels at how cool it is down here. Really? She says it is hard to regulate the temperature up stairs–she is either freezing from AC or sweating after tuning it down. She cannot hear our music playing during the summer, because the AC is humming intermittently. She welcomes the chance to spend time downstairs.

Downstairs every screened window is opened and some floor fans blowing the fresh ocean air around. But make no mistake we still feel the heat of the stove and ovens as we prepare for tonight’s dinner. Our lunch guests are filling up the tables outside on our deck while they partake of fresh bowls of my pasta and sauce. Some customers still prefer to gather around my stove inside, and I enjoy their company while I am cooking.

As in past seasons we serve European-style Cheese Boards–we are calling them BOB’S BOARDS because I am choosing great bulk cheeses we’ve never carried before and matching them up with some of the new dry aged cured sausages we do carry now (soon to be our very own recipes). Some of our guests say they really enjoy the leisure atmosphere here, long enough to enjoy a full bottle of wine and some good food. Some say “healthy” food; I think I know that they mean “whole foods” prepared fresh on premise. We gladly fulfill that niche for them. It is what we do best. Start from scratch and create dishes we love to eat too. Summer is heating up, but for me it is cool.


WEBSITE GETS REMODELED

June 1st, we launched our remolded website. Our goal was to simplify. I guess we won’t know for sure until more of our guests have a chance to use it, but from Lenore’s perspective, if it is as easy for our user as it is for her to update it, we accomplished our goal. By emphasizing our mainstay, THE DINNER SHOW,  first time users can find a show quickly that corresponds to the date(s) they’ll be in town. Our guest survey revealed that hands-on classes are searched out after first coming to the dinner show, so we put all of those “backstage,” as if to say, go backstage with our crew to get your hands dirty.

If you are back to check out the pictures taken during your show, our gallery lives in the ABOUT navigation button.  And if you are back to try one of the recipes you had while at the show, BOB & LENORE’S COOKBOOK is on the right hand side of home page.

The cookbook features new chapters and the most visual changes. All of the chapters are titled for their place in the Mediterranean food pyramid. Odd that it sounds, we do use at least 80 % Northwest ingredients, but we follow the healthy Mediterranean cuisines in our menu planning. Our chapters are listed in order of dominance for balance in a healthy eating style. First we list the chapter on grains, followed by vegetables and fruits, legumes, and beans, followed by fish and so forth to the items which we use more moderately.

Two new chapters in our cookbook are TECHNIQUES & METHODS  and INGREDIENTS, where you’ll find lists of “how-to-dos” we frequently speak about during our shows. We are able to explained a bit more in depth in these new chapters than in the recipe itself.  For example, you can review how to choose a wine that matches with the other ingredients on the menu. You can find out about keeping foods safe from food borne illness and proper cooking temperatures.  And down the line, we will be adding quick videos capturing techniques and methods we do before our guests arrive.

We invite you to explore and give feedback, but do give Lenore time for learning curve and to catch up with some of the changes that didn’t transfer well. Gallery pictures,  for example, are now under the ABOUT nav-button, and some of the pictures are just too small for this new format. Some of the groups didn’t transfer well either and we may need to actually start over.

Just a quick word of appreciation for our web designers, Jonathan & Amy, Grow-Creative, for this re-do as well as all they have done the past seven years.

 


TASTE OF TUSCANY

“Bedrooms in Italy are narrower than they are in America or Canada. They are very nice by Italian standards, just not so wide,” Paola Roselli, our tour guide said to the group. “Further,” she said, “They don’t name the beds in Italy,” referring to queen, king, and standard. Seems Italian beds come for one or two people; and often, beds for two, are two beds designed for one simply pushed together. “You are going to rural Italy. There may not be Wi-Fi or even cell service,” she suggested, “you’re going to do allot of resting and relaxing and enjoying the beautiful countryside of Tuscany.”  As for exercise, sounds like no problem, as we will be picking olives in the adjacent orchard the first day! And if you still want more, Paola recommends we walk the Roman road (yes, that’s right—it is the original genuine article) outside our villa; it is 4 Kilometers to the nearest town where you can get a coffee!

We invited guests who will be traveling with us to attend this preview TASTE OF TUSCANY dinner at EVOO to put us all in the mood for the trip. Our plan was to bring the group together to get to know each other as well to provide time to ask questions about our itinerary. Paola and her husband came to dinner too, and she came prepared to tell us like it is. After she spoke/gestured for an hour I decided her goal must have been to make sure no one going  on this trip would have any unrealistic expectations.

“Bathrooms in Italy are the most unusual. You see, in Italy we don’t tear down and rebuild; too expensive. We just repair and add on and make the existing structures better. Don’t expect every restroom to be the same. Most of the time, rest rooms were added into small spaces; it is something that will make you laugh when you report back to the group,” she said placing her hands together and looking up to the ceiling as if requesting divine help in getting her point across. Lenore looked around the room wondering how well our guests were accepting the news. Smiles, even laughs, and many nods of approval! Whew!

Paola told the group the itinerary came from the wish-list that we gave her in the beginning when she asked us what an ideal culinary tour in Tuscany would be. She said she was so happy to put together this personal tour and gave us almost everything, leaving out our interest in fishing. That she doesn’t care for fish had nothing to do with it she explained! She said she appreciates the opportunity to put together such a unique tour and being together on this day so everyone can know what to expect in October. She told us we need to be flexible with the itinerary as she may need to switch a few things around—like the day we visit the cattle farm, she said, they are butchering fresh just for us, so when they are ready we go!

Our arrival day needs coordination in that everyone needs to let Paola know when they are arriving so she and the bus company can arrange pick up. All this will be decided of course before we leave for Italy in October. She asked our guests to be sure to tell me and Lenore their flight information so that we can send it all at once to her. Then she will give times, stating the times are more or less accurate, as “we may run into an accident on the road and that slows everyone down.”

Lenore  took video of a portion of  Paola explaining what we can expect on our tour. It is too large to post here so we are burning to CD.  Meanwhile, here are a few pictures of the day.  [Pictures top-bottom:Bob at his amazing Taste of Tuscany buffet; Paola speaking (Italian style); a delicious combination of fresh pasta, bread crumbs, garlic & anchovies aioli; roasted peppers; fritatta with fried eggplant & tomatoes; fennel stuffed porkloin & rosemary potatoes.]






POP OVERS!

No I am not talking about the baked variety. It is the term my wife uses to describe people who “pop-over!” She claims to enjoy it, and yet I think there are mixed feelings. Yesterday we had some popovers! I was working in the store as usual when two young guys came in and stood unusually close as I was chopping lamb for my sausage. I did my usual greeting but they remained uncomfortable close. Then I hear the chorus of “Happy Birthday” from the rest of the group as they came in. It was Lenore’s side of the family from Seattle singing to me for my birthday, which isn’t till tomorrow. I haven’t seen them all together for at least seven years. The young men were just boys last I saw them. It was nice. I had forgotten how much fun I had getting together with Lenore’s family. Despite Lenore’s insistence she likes popovers, she gave them a good tongue lashing for “popping” over without calling first so she could at least set aside some time to visit. But she wasn’t really upset. They gave her 30 minutes before heading to our house, enough time to shower and do the week’s worth of coffee cups in our sink.

It was cousin Mark’s birthday and they decided to head down without calling so we wouldn’t make a fuss. They did come to our dinner show last night and it felt allot like old times. This is the group that were always pulling something. Especially on the newbie in the family, me at that time. I was the recipient of many pranks and jokes, which I reciprocated, of course! Hard to believe I would miss that, but I guess I have. This group gives an award every year for the goofiest act by a family member during the year. It’s called the brick award, and yes I receive one once. You might say, this is a symbol of our ability to laugh at ourselves. It’s a family tradition at this point and I have lost a few details of how it started, but I do know I miss these times with Lenore’s side of the family.


After

After our very successful Thursday night dinner show, I returned home about 11 PM and Lenore said she had a plan. A plan for what? First we will pack our van with the Tsunami kits, extra jackets and blow up mattress. We’ll drive up to Haystack Heights and park it. Then we’ll come home, try to get some sleep, but know that we will be evacuating by 7 AM. That is when the waves could potentially reach the Oregon shoreline. We live just four houses from the beach–almost at sea level. We have lots of pictures saved in boxes as high as they could be in the garage and we thought that would do. Anyway, as I was fighting a cold, Lenore insisted I get some sleep. She slept on and off with the tv on, not knowing if their predictions and timing were accurate. What if we couldn’t hear the alarm, and so on it went through her mind. About 4 AM, as the East coast started to wake up and get the news, our good friend in Maryland called. Lenore told her she was ready. Alice insisted on doing more–she said do you have clothing, your important papers, etc? Well we didn’t. We just planned for our personal safety. Plus we  went into school to wake up our intern, who is here from the Oregon Culinary Institute for his externship, and who is staying in our studio at the school. He was sleepy but quickly packed his stuff and came along. By now the authorities were telling us to get to high ground before 6 AM and that was an hour away.

What strikes me looking back is that nothing mattered as much as our personal safety. It felt hopeless to begin to gather important possessions. Not enough time, not sure where everything is anyway, and not organized enough to do it well. Note to self, get organize for the next time. And next time is probable as long as we live on the coast. The planning and efforts by the authorities to educate us and prepare us is appreciated and our consciousness is awakened. We have had our tsunami kits prepared since the last time, but now we are questioning if  high ground is high enough. After watching the destruction in Japan we think there is going to be so much debris (our house included) pushing up the hill that maybe we need to reassess the distance required.

All this said, we must do our due diligence and make sure our emergency plans are more solid than this time, but we also must relegate the potential for such an event to the same place we put getting hit by lightening, which I guess, odds are better that will happen than a tsunami. We must go back to work and play in this delightful community, knowing that ours is probably safer than most. After all Californians go back to their homes after fires and earthquakes. Gratefully the filters in our minds keep us from going obsessive. We can move on and get back to day to day. Day to day, that for me keeps me mindful of the present and getting the most from it.

While we were in our safe place with friends up in Haystack Heights, we were surprised to see our Thusday night guests on the news as they were being evacuated from their hotel in Cannon Beach. By noon, when our town was declared safe to return, we once again saw the same customers walking through town. They came back! And so did our guests for Friday night, and Saturday too. In fact, it was a busy Savor Cannon Beach weekend! Our salt tasting was very well attended and I had a great time doing it. We will be doing that again! And the winter wine tour seemed to be quite successful too. So good was the weekend in fact by Sunday we slept till noon, forgetting we were to “spring forward,” and being completely rested we took the entire day to ourselves.


Trippin’ out to Tuscany

Who knew our culinary tour to Tuscany this coming October would be so popular. We decided  quite spontaneously to add a second week since our first filled so quickly. And then the second filled too! So off we go to Tuscany with two groups back to back, the second repeating the itinerary of the first. It has been slightly daunting to be the hosts of a party, so to speak, that we are putting together over such a long distance. We already have a high degree of confidence in our contacts in Italy and so we must have faith in them to deliver the goods. They have after all, the experience of organizing such tours that we do not. Our guide grew up in the area and knows the proprietors personally. Between now and our departure the plan is to nail down even more details of each experience. For example, Lenore and I will help to pick out our dinner menus at the Villa; both the hands-on classes as well as the others. Our guide has already checked with the two chef-hosts at the Villa who encouraged us  to plan the menus with them. Mind you we are asking for authentic seasonal Tuscan meals. Without knowing anyone, we should have a certain level of faith in the results, since after-all, it is Italy!  At this rate we will have plenty to report when our travel companions get together with us in May at EVOO for our Taste of Tuscany dinner. At that time we should know more about the weather picture in October and what to pack, and if the men need jackets/ties, because Lenore tells me the women will know how they should dress just knowing that. We do know good walking shoes and even boots might be in order for one of our day trips into the olive orchards. Hopefully we can do it all with one bag. So stay tuned as we continue our ramp up to Tuscany!


Recipe Testing

Recipe testing can be time consuming but I couldn’t do this job without it. Luckily between Lenore and I we can usually make the time. Lenore made up a batch of dumplings the other day to add to our basic minestrone soup! A little off the mainstream of chicken and dumplings, but  why not. She decided to add some crispy fried prosciutto and some ground dry aged parmesan cheese to the virgin dumpling batter. It really added allot of interest to a minestrone soup without the traditional elbow pasta the way my family makes it. It all started because the local newspaper, Gazette, ask for our take on eating healthy for their annual “Healthy Outlook” edition. So we did the article and included our minestrone soup with these dumplings. Recipes are in our online cookbook. Enjoy!

Minestrone with Prosciutto chive Dumplings
feature

Mid January and counting

Sometimes it seems the most exciting part about January is the planning we do for the rest of year. We are mid-Jan and counting the days for faster times in town!  So much water!  Even our little get away plan was dampened by so much wind and rain. But I get ahead of myself. Lenore and I decided to take a short road trip. Motivated by the fact that last January we had build a bed that fits perfectly into our van for sleeping and storage of clothing, dog paraphernalia, and  food. It was allot fun last year building it with friends in Seattle in their garage–while it rained outside. The best laid plans to use it during the year for short road trips never happened. Now with the impending expiration of the lease on the van it was now or never to try out our “turtle” as Lenore has dubbed the van-bed. So it was the morning of a trip down the coast to visit our friends in Yachats; the turtle was ready, all packed, dogs eager.  But the van was not going anywhere. Battery had died as I discovered later due to the cabin lights on all night. So I jumped using Lenore’s cables and car–but when they started smoking, I unhitched before any damage to either battery and called AAA. How embarrassing to have our local tow truck pull into our drive. Anyway, once on the road, we drove to our local Les Schwab and stopped the van. If it didn’t start there we could at least buy a new battery. First thing the attendant said was, wow you could use a couple new tires! He assumed that was why we were there. So knowing I am turning in the van in a couple months, I reluctantly put on two new tires thinking of the safety of my family in the turtle! By now it is several hours later, but we can still make our dinner date before dark. The real upshot of the entire trip is that we did stay in the turtle that night. Parked in the driveway of our friends with a perfectly available guest room at the ready. They kindly left the door open in case we changed our minds during the night. Once we were all inside for the night all seemed pretty good. The poodles were assigned to their beds that were on the front seats of the van. Only one went willingly so the other scrunched in on my side–we all settled down. I immediately felt the blood rush to my head and realized we were parked with the nose of the van on a downward slant. Hoping Lenore wouldn’t notice, I didn’t speak of it. By morning, after each of us separately woke up to make a trip to the bathroom inside, the van-bed was in total disarray and Lenore was wedged between the front seats with one poodle, while our other one had the entire foot of the bed to herself. We walked out most of our kinks with the dogs–ignoring the wind and rain as best we could.  Afterward our friends prepared a great breakfast–having had a restaurant in Tuscan–you know it was wonderful, and we went to Newport aquarium to meet another friend who happened to be in town. Love going there, but by the time we were done it was already 4:00, and we could sure use a shower. We stayed the night at the Newport Hallmark where our friend was and thawed out in a spa room for dogs!

Here is the recipe of sorts for the breakfast tostada our friends made. Start with corn tortilla and cover with grated sharp cheddar. Bake to melt. Add layer of spicy sausage and rice and beans. Top with sliced avocado and two fried eggs. Serve with variety of prepared hot salsa–all of which were delicious.


Happy New Year!

It is amazing how good it feels to say so long to the old and ring in the new! Besides being thankful for a good year past, we find ourselves hopeful for this one. It is clear we are doing what we love and our plan is to keep doing it in 2011.  We had 25 guests at our dinner show last evening who made it a party! We say thanks because without planning it this way, our new way of life here in Cannon Beach seems to fulfill our need for social life too. Now I ask, how many jobs out there do that? Maybe more than I think but for sure this is the one that does it for me. Lenore too, enjoys the hospitality of our experiences here at EVOO.  She actually put together foodie games that to my surprise our guests  really seemed to enjoy. When they arrived they were given a portion of a silly food riddle and a glass of sparkling Proseco wine. They were then tasked with finding the other half of the riddle. When they found each other they were to learn as much as possible about each other that they could, then introduce each other to the rest of the guests. Nice icebreaker, as we called it in my corporate days. Then there were the guests who showed their competitive side. Dana, why we didn’t know you enjoyed winning so much! And as the games continued I was cooking. I loved the menu–we started with ahi tuna & hazelnut tartar on a toasted sesame wonton served with a hot chestnut soup shooter. My favorite course was the truffle papparadelle pasta with truffle butter and black truffle slices. We topped that with a poached duck egg and frizzled speck. Next course, we did seared scallops and marinated shrimp with potato-cauliflower hash with a hint of curry. And finally we had prime rib with a roasted vegetable pot pie. It was not a typically pot pie—no, no. It seemed to morph as we did it. Started with roasting six different vegetables separately. When we saw how beautiful these were we didn’t want to cover them up with the rich beautifully flavored veloute sauce and then pasty–how could we see these colorful roasted veggies? That is what I mean about morphing. We put the veloute on the bottom of a shallow ramekin; then veggies on the veloute; baked 15 minutes to bring up to temperature for serving and then we added a prebaked pastry top! Fun! Lots of work but resulted in a “do again” dish for me. Of course we had a great dessert finale too. Chocolate sour cream cake with toasted Swiss meringue icing sitting in a pool of warm chocolate ganache. But wait, there’s more. A scoop of chocolate cherry gelato and salted candied hazelnut. Okay! Lots of love in this menu and so appropriate for the night, because we were expressing our appreciation of where we have been and anticipating the possibilities of the new year all in one experience. May the love continue for us all and may the new year bring it for us all!